British scientists are working on the cutting edge of genetically modified organisms to produce the latest advance in the fight to defeat the scourge of bird flu – glow-in-the-dark chickens.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, backed by the U.K. government, are using genetic engineering to prevent the primary infection of chickens with avian flu and stop the disease from spreading to their offspring.
In what initially sounds like an eerie confirmation of anti-GMO activists label of “Franken food,” scientists have been able to inject chicks with fluorescent protein, which distinguishes them from other birds during experiments.
They also used a “decoy” gene injected into cells in the yolk of a new egg to track the chicken’s progress and how vulnerable they are to bird flu. Scientists were able to detect chickens with the decoy gene thanks to the complimentary injection of fluorescent protein that made the chickens beaks and feet glow under an ultraviolet light.
The chickens with the decoy gene who are exposed to bird flu had their genetic code trick the virus into replicating the decoy, which will in turn disrupt the viruses’ ability to replicate itself. When a mix of ordinary and GMO chickens were exposed to the virus researchers found the GMO chickens were far more resilient and were able to slow onset of infection better than their naturally bred peers.
GMO researchers hope the experiments will lay the groundwork for preventing both the infection through egg laying and transmission of the virus from bird to bird in adulthood. If they are successful, birds bred for the commercial market would not come equipped with their glow feature.
According to Reuters, more than 48 million chickens and turkeys died from the disease in the U.S. since December. GMO animals have still not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As of yet, no humans have been infected with bird flu.
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